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The delight of dahlias


Photo: Pink dahlia - note the earwig munching near the centre!

Photo: Pink dahlia - note the earwig munching near the centre!

I always thought of dahlias as rather dull flowers, grown by old men in tweedy jackets, grumbling about earwigs and the lack of rain. Dahlias seemed such a palaver. And boring.

But then Sarah Raven’s books and website tore the scales from my eyes.  My first wake up call was when she mentioned that dahlias can flower from late July to the first frosts in November. Perhaps it would be worth researching this plant after all?

I had no idea what a vast range of varieties there are from teeny pom poms to huge dinner plate ones. I spent hours browsing the Sutton’s Dahlia range and ordered quite a few. The results have been spectacular, quite often Danny and I eat our breakfast toast walking around the main herbaceous beds in awe. Also a few stray bulbs must have crept into the bags when no one was looking – we’ve had a few surprises! 

Dahlias have a presence; even the little ones have a boldness that I’ve rarely seen in a flower before. Suddenly I’m in love and like the old men that I scorned, I’m fussing about earwigs and rainfall. They are a delight to tend as they are so abundant and fizzing with glamour and élan.

The one drawback about dahlias is that they don’t last very long in water. I’ve found that by conditioning the stems gives the flowers a few more days before they fade.(hold the tips of the stems in a mug containing 2-3cm of boiling water for 20 seconds and then put the stems straight into cold water). I’ve discovered that the bigger dahlias last a lot longer in water than the smaller bush type ones.

Lynn Keddie mentioned that there is a new variety of dahlias that last about 12 days as a cut flower – these are Karma Dahlias.

My mum came to visit this week and gasped when we opened the back door. She is now thinking of investing in some smaller dahlias next year. Her Cambridge garden is much warmer and sheltered than ours so she wouldn’t need to lift the corms in November. A deep mulch around the plants should be all that they would need.

On the Karma dahlia front I’ve found two stockists with a reasonable range in the UK. Think Tropical stocks them.  Their Google tag line amused me – “These flowers make you feel really good about yourself even if you are a bit horrid.”
Peter Nyssen has a smaller selection but the corms are much cheaper.

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  1. Magic Cochin

    Karma cutting Dahlias sound like the perfect idea – making a mental note to keep an eye out for them.

    Have you visited the Dahlia border at Anglesey Abbey (not far from you) – maybe too late for this year but if you haven’t, jot it in the diary for next year 😉 it’s an amazing rainbow of colour!


  2. There’s a fantastic new Karma dahlia called Fuschiana which we got in at the garden centre I work at last summer. We were all intending to take some cuttings from them on the Friday they came in, didn’t have time and all 20 had sold by Monday, even tho they retailed at about £13, which is a lot for a ready potted dahlia. It was a real beauty.

  3. I love dahlias. They remind me of my dad, who liked to grow them. Not too keen on the earwigs that go with though! My brother grew some recently but was quite insistent that they were called azaleas when he invited my mother to admire them. She wasn’t convinced as it was the wrong time of year. My brother is famous for his malapropisms. His absolute best though was calling his lovingly tended clematis a chlamydia! My sister and I laughed helplessly, tears running down the face and sides aching, for at least 5 minutes on the phone over that one!

  4. Keep in mind that the Incas (dahlias originated in Mexico) grew the tubers as a food crop. Modern breeding has been for flower diversity but – just like tulip bulbs – dahlia tubers ARE edible.

  5. Kooky Girl

    I once grew the Bishop of Llandaff variety – they were very pretty, a lovely bright red and flowered for a long time. I think I should get some more dahlias, they are very good addition to a garden of flowers.

  6. Ali at Very Berry

    I love dahlias. When we used to live in Cambridge I loved the dahlias in border outside Magdalene College, overlooking the river. They are gorgeous!

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